Kraft Foods has released a new product that contains a combination of the beer slops that Australians lovingly call Vegemite, and cream cheese. Non-Australians already find the black stuff weird, but in Australia, there has been a bit of a stink around the name that they have given to the new product, iSnack 2.0.
Similar to when they first released Vegemite, Kraft had a nation wide competition to find a name for their new product, and announced the name during the quarter time break of the AFL Grand Final. The name was the inspiration of web-designer (surprise, surprise), Dean Robbins, and even my initial response was to recoil in horror, and turn away from the television (or maybe that was later, when the Saints lost).
Personally, I find the name a bit ridiculous, and already quite dated. I’m not sure whether Robbins was taking the piss and just happened to convince the marketers down at Kraft that his idea was authentic, but it has certainly got everyone talking.
Lots of people in the blogosphere and elsewhere have come out and said that the name is ridiculous and won’t last. Some of the commentary has been considered and thoughtful, while some of it is has generated yet another opportunity for nutbags to vent (this is the iNternet, after all). Now, I’m the first person to say that any company that puts “i” in front of their brand, or product, and suddenly thinks that the “young people” will buy it is a bit of a nong, but Kraft may be on to something that has been missed by all the complainers.
It’s a well-known fact amongst marketers and branders, that when it comes to fast-moving consumable goods (FMCGs), brand salience is one of the most powerful motivators for purchase. Brand salience is a technical term that basically means how easy something is to recall from our memory – if it is easily recalled, our willingness to purchase the product is increased in a buying situation. The reality is that iSnack 2.0 is being talked about all over the country, and this will have a significant effect on the brand’s salience when people head off to the shops in the next couple of days.
The thing that a lot of people are also missing is that Vegemite wasn’t always an Aussie iCon. It was first released after a competition to name it back in 1922, then had an attempted name change (to Parwill) in 1928, but didn’t really take off until the late 1930s, once the product started to be endorsed by Doctor’s Associations, health bodies, and even the British Medical Journal, as a good way for young children to get a dose of vitamins B1, B2 and niacin. This is a mistake that many pundits, marketers, and business people make when talking about brands – most of these iConic brands have a history and it is rare for a name to be taken to the hearts of a loving public when it first released.
I think that some downsides of this name will be that the “i” prefix and the 2.0 may date fairly quickly (the other potential disaster is when people try to plug their earphones into the jar). There seems to be an accepted wisdom amongst people who know nothing about communication, that to be “up-to-date” you need to jump on the bandwagon of any new trend, particularly in technology. So a little while ago, everyone was putting “e” at the front of their brand or product (in universities we had e-learning, e-communication, e-university).
Now, for some reason, companies think that putting a lower case “i” in front of anything makes them hip and cool and awesome, and init with the young people. So we have iLearning, iLecture and iSing. It was new and interesting when iMac came out in 1998, and to some degree, Apple should be allowed to put a little i in front of any product they like – and Breville registered the iSnack trademark for a different product in 2000. So I’m not sure whether “i” translates well to a black spread, and particularly if that bird has flown.
But I don’t think it signals the end of Vegemite. There have always been wacky brand names that people have struggled with – Westpac, Accenture, Mars Bar, Snickers, and even Pepsi are all meaningless and somewhat ridiculous, but people are willing to put up with these names, because they want the product.
Tim Tam? What does that mean? Yet, we seem to cope, and even buy the product – even making the chocolate biscuit another Aussie iCon.
What might happen is that the product and the brand-name will be used as a means of promotion, to get interest, and conversation, and somewhere down the line they might drop the full name. So, we might see iSnack, or VegieSnack, or CheeseySnackyBiteyMite, or MobileVegieSnack, or Macinsnack (sorry, getting a bit silly here). Or it might work as a short-term promotion (although Kraft are saying it is a permanent product).
Take this first effort as a test marketing exercise. In the end it will be sales of the product, rather than consumer outcry about the brand, that will determine its success. Yes, I realise that some consumers have said they will boycott the product because of the dumb name, but it is questionable how significant that boycott will be, when weighed up against the potential new customers that have been generated by all this publicity. What proportion of these boycotters were potential consumers of the product in the first place?
The thing with any brand name is that the company needs to own it, and run with it, and promote it, and create a situation where their target market remembers it, tries it, likes it, and rebuys it. I would think they need to give the name at least a year or two to see how sales go, before changing the name, or the product.
But in this era of expectations of instant success, it may not be given the freedom of the life cycle of the original product. I think the key will be to look at sales in the first six months, rather than what bloggers and twitterers are saying.
… All this talk about Vegemite is making me hungry for some salty tasting, black goo on toast, and a nice cup of tea.
uPdate 2.0 (29 September 2009):
It seems Kraft are leaving their options open to change the name. According to a report in The Australian today, Kraft spokesman Simon Talbot said, “We are currently monitoring the social networks – the product is embedded, but I couldn’t comment on the name.”